Polls open for Czech elections amid unprecedented political uncertainty

As the Prime Minister faces international scandal and rumors swirl about the state of the President’s health, the outcome of the vote is hard to predict.

William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 08.10.2021 15:47:00 (updated on 08.10.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

The last week has been a rollercoaster in Czech politics. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been accused of money laundering over revelations about his past financial dealings, while uncertainty has grown about the real state of President Miloš Zeman’s health. Given the role played by the President in post-election negotiations, this could have particularly serious consequences for events over the coming days.

Amid an unprecedented level of political uncertainty, the nation is now heading to the polls to elect the next parliament and government of the Czech Republic.

Polling stations opened at 2pm throughout the country. Voters have been left with little time to process the implications of the Pandora Papers scandal, in which current Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) was accused of using a complex system of offshore companies to purchase luxury French real estate in 2009. Opposition parties accused him of money laundering, leading a furious Babiš to demand apologies, with the threat of legal action, only a day before the vote.

“Andrej Babiš lied about owning companies in tax havens, he lied in his tax returns, and we want to hold him accountable,” said Jakub Michálek, the parliamentary head of the Czech Pirate Party.

“They say that I have committed criminal activity, and if they do not apologize, I will sue them all,” the Prime Minister retorted.

Despite the avalanche of criticism heaped upon Babiš in recent days, it remains unclear whether the Pandora Papers will influence the outcome of the elections. Coming so soon before the vote, polls have not been able to establish the impact of the scandal on ANO’s chances. Indeed, most foreign media predict that despite the furor, Babiš voters will not be put off by the affair.

"Public opinion polls show that the scandal is possibly no scandal at all, not in Czech voters' eyes at least," German publication Der Spiegel writes today, referring to ANO as the continuous comfortable front-runner.

International media also characterize the possible re-election of Babiš as strengthening regional opposition to the EU as it tries to fight corruption in Central Europe.

Czech voters will decide not only the fate of the country but also about the future of the Visegrad Group, and whether Orban will have further partners in its kidnapping," Slovak daily Sme wrote today.

Voter turnout is expected to be high. Prague City Hall is already reporting strong interest, while turnout has been impressive at overseas polling stations. Voters can choose between 22 political parties and movements, with a total of 5,242 candidates. Voting stations will be open today until 10pm, and tomorrow from 8am to 2pm.

One Czech citizen who won’t be turning out to vote is President Miloš Zeman, who will be voting from his presidential residence in Lány due to ill health.

The President has had to cancel appearances, including a Sunday post-election debate, relating to the election due to health issues which, despite being downplayed by Castle staff, are causing increasing concern.

Should the President’s ill-health prevent him from participating in post-election negotiations on the formation of a new government, the Czech Republic will be in truly uncharted territory.

Negotiations following the vote will likely prove pivotal, as no party or political group is expected to gain enough seats to form an outright majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has revealed a meeting with the President is penciled in for Sunday evening: possibly the start of a long process in forming a new government. The Pirate+STAN and SPOLU coalitions have already ruled out working with Babiš, yet it appears unlikely that those two coalitions could form a government without support from another party.

As voters deliver their verdict on Babiš’s government, the future of the Czech Republic is uncertain. And with the health condition of the President shrouded in mystery, the nation will be bracing itself for more twists and turns in the coming days.

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